Women-only shortlists are ‘illegal’, says Commission

Using women-only shortlists in order to increase gender representation on boards is unlawful under equality law, according to new guidance published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The guidance advises companies, search firms and recruitment agencies about positive steps that can be taken to improve the representation of women on boards. It includes a range of steps that can be taken to improve gender representation on boards such as:

– Setting aspirational targets for increasing the number of women on boards within a particular timescale
– Targeting networking opportunities for women
– Providing mentoring and sponsor programmes, which assist in the development of female talent.

The announcement comes as the Commission launches a Great Britain-wide inquiry into the recruitment and appointment practices of the top 350 listed companies at board level. The Inquiry, to be chaired by EHRC Commissioner Laura Carstensen, will work closely with these companies to examine their recruitment and selection processes and the experience of applicants and decision makers. The aim is to identify recruitment practices which make a difference and deliver open, fair and merit based appointments.

This inquiry builds on a previous Commission report, which found that the appointment of women to FTSE 350-listed non-executive director roles is being held back by selection processes which favour candidates with similar characteristics to existing largely male board members.

The findings of the Commission’s inquiry will be published in spring 2015 and used to produce best practice guidance.

EHRC Commissioner, Laura Carstensen, said: “Research suggests that companies with diverse boards produce better performance and many companies recognise this. Equality is for everyone, and it is clear that there is still much more to be done to ensure that women have an equal opportunity to succeed on merit in gaining board positions.

“A lack of gender balance on boards is a detriment not only to women with the ability to hold such roles but also to businesses and the economy. In an ever more competitive and global economy, we cannot afford to be overlooking the talent of half of our population.”


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